Jackson — The Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) has added a new staff member whose name should be a familiar one to most newspaper readers in Mississippi. Scott Waller, after more than 20 years in print journalism, most recently with The Clarion-Ledger, has come on board as senior vice president of public affairs.
“There are some outstanding, energetic business leaders in this state, and many of them are members and leaders in the MEC,” Waller said of what attracted him to the MEC. “It’s a grassroots effort that I see as both challenging and rewarding.”
A native of Shubuta, Waller attended high school in Quitman before going on to Mississippi State University. His first job was working summers at the Clarke County Tribune in Quitman, and there fell in love with community newspapers.
In fact, he was so smitten that he bought the Madison County Journal in 1992 at the ripe old age of 29. Eight months later, he sold part of his interest to current publisher Jim Prince, and five months later left the Journal
Waller would go on to The Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi’s largest daily newspaper, serving as editor of the newspaper’s community focus sections and sports editor. In April 2002, he was named editor of the Clarion-Ledger’s business section, a position he held when he accepted the job at the MEC.
While Waller’s career in journalism is well known, some may not know that he also has experience as an entrepreneur. In addition to owning the Madison County Journal, Waller established a homebuilding company in the mid-1990s. He would build houses in the metro Jackson area for the next seven years until The Clarion-Ledger named him business editor, which required that he divest himself of the homebuilding business to avoid any possible conflicts of interest.
Blake Wilson, president of the MEC, said Waller’s journalism background was an obvious plus and was certainly an important factor in his hiring. However, Wilson puts just as much stock in Waller’s previous business experience.
“Scott was just right for the job,” Wilson said. “He’s been a business owner, and knows what it takes to meet a payroll. His position is not a communications job. Communications will be a big part of what he does, and he certainly has the skills and knowledge for that. But, it will also involve policy and governmental affairs, which he has had a lifelong interest in. Couple that with his business background, and Scott offers the perfect ‘ingredients’ for the job.”
aller’s hiring is evidence of a significant shift in focus currently underway at the MEC. The organization was formed in 1949 as the statewide chamber of commerce. It has grown to include approximately 7,100 members representing some 1,400 companies today. It deals with broad issues that relate to Mississippi businesses, pulls together coalitions to make overall statewide progress and focuses on issues with a bottom line return as well as fairness and equity.
Wilson said the MEC will continue to do all of these things, but with a new volunteer-driven approach.
“We’re focusing on aggressively involving our volunteers in the MEC,” said Wilson, who has led the organization for eight years now. “A true measure of an organization is the quality and capability of its staff and volunteers, and I’m really excited about this new opportunity.”
This new focus on volunteers will be at the fore when the MEC conducts its annual tour in the fall. This year’s event, dubbed the “Trailblazer Tour,” will visit more than 20
Mississippi communities, which Wilson said is the most ambitious agenda for any MEC tour. More than that, Wilson said the tour will reach out to the MEC volunteers, and expects to get input and feedback from thousands through this effort.
Wilson added that the MEC’s Hob Nob, an annual event providing a venue for lawmakers and business leaders to interact, would continue this new focus. This year’s Hob Nob will be held in November at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson.
Time to work — and live
Wilson said Waller would play a significant role in this new emphasis on volunteers, as well as other areas — “taking it to the next level,” Wilson said. And, Waller said he is ready to get to work.
While the work of the MEC is the overriding reason Waller came on board, he admitted that his new position would offer a little more downtime. Waller had nothing but good words about his time at The Clarion-Ledger, but the hours could be demanding.
Married with a 12-year-old son, Waller enjoys family time, church activities and playing golf and watching his beloved Mississippi State Bulldogs play baseball with his son.
“The youth group at our church recently went to a Mississippi Braves baseball game, and I was actually off, so I could go,” Waller said with a smile. “When I got there, someone asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I just didn’t have the time before.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.